Chip Is Alive!, Issue 6

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Welcome to Issue 6 of Chip Is Alive!, where we examine thought-provoking life strategies and issues which may or may not be of interest to you. Chip Is Alive! is inspired by Chip Vivant, the app who thinks he's alive and wants to be your friend and help you in ways that other productivity apps can't. You can meet Chip at

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In this issue, we'll:

  • learn about learning foreign languages
  • talk about Chip's first-ever voice call

Enjoy. Feedback always welcome.

Learning a Foreign Language

Worlds That Were Opened to Me

As mentioned last week, one of the example To-Dos I use frequently is that of learning a foreign language. I've mastered many languages in my lifetime: I speak English (my native tongue), French and Dutch fluently and can get by well enough in Spanish and German to understand most of what I hear and express most anything I want to say. Both French and Dutch people ask if I'm of French and Dutch origin. (I'm not saying this to brag, but to establish myself as an authority on this subject.) I use Chip to send me two To-Dos for learning Spanish: one for fifteen minutes in the morning and one for fifteen minutes in the evening.

I didn't start learning French in earnest until I was 18 years old, so I reject the notion that to master a language, you have to start when you're a child. Defeatist attitudes like that are one of the myriad things that discourage people from learning a new language. As you can imagine, I've formed some strong opinions about the attitudes and techniques that contribute to one's success. The reason I feel so strongly about this is because these erroneous beliefs can cause people to miss out on fascinating lifetime experiences. When I think about:

  • living and working in France and Holland
  • partying all night in Germany with my German friends during Oktoberfest and Fasching
  • remembering a German truckdriver's disbelief (I convinced him to take me as a hitchhiker. (Kids: I was young and dumb; don't do that.)) that I was American (he bought me lunch and asked me to pick some numbers so he could buy a lottery ticket because he had never met an American before)
  • illegally sneaking into Humboldt Universität in East Berlin in 1987, years before the Berlin Wall fell, so I could converse with the students in German and get their take on communism, not being able to leave their country, etc.
  • ditching my French tour group during a shopping trip across the border in Italy so I could seek out a Italian vegetarian restaurant and converse with the locals
  • chanting ¡Corrida de toros, vergüenza nacional! on the streets of Barcelona during an anti-bullfighting march
  • weekly Spanish / English language exchanges with a Chilean student while living in France
  • many, many, many other wonderful experiences too numerous to mention

...I thank the stars that I had the privilege of having these experiences and that those horrid language-learning myths didn't stop me.

My Language Guide

18 years ago, while living and working in France. I came up with this hare-brained idea to write several booklets which I would try to sell in the U.S. by placing classified ads in the National Enquirer. One of them was entitled How to Learn a Foreign Language. The guide was written, but the project to sell it never got off the ground. Out of curiosity, I dug it up and reread it and found that it was quite good. Of course, zero mention was made of the Internet and there are other dated suggestions like going to a video rental store and getting a shortwave radio, but the bulk of the guide is just as pertinent today as it was 18 years ago.

Here are some snippets from this guide:

  • ...there are some real difficulties involved in learning a foreign language. But on top of these real difficulties, there lurk many imaginary ones. These imaginary ones are created by educational institutions and certain well-meaning, but misguided people (even if they are good in languages themselves).
  • In school, a short time is spent covering the basics before plunging into excruciating literary works which are completely inappropriate for our needs. In other countries, the situation is no better. A French friend of mine had me leaf through an English book she was reading; I saw words like "door hinge" and "sedimentary rock" knowing full well she didn't know simpler, more useful words. No wonder people are scared or put off by languages!
  • Another imaginary difficulty: many people have a total allergy to grammar and verb conjugations and many night school and informal classes pander to this unfounded fear. Basic grammatical knowledge and verb conjugations are essential for arranging words into meaningful sentences; the task becomes less daunting when we can compare and contrast other languages with our own. (To this end, I totally agree with Benny the Irish Polyglot's negative assessment of programs like Rosetta Stone[1], for example.)
  • Yet another imaginary difficulty: some people say "throw away your pocket bilingual dictionaries and buy a thick hardcover one-language dictionary. Use the one-language dictionary when you read in a foreign language. In this way, you'll get totally immersed in the language." This is nonsense! When you see the word rouge-gorge in French, do you want to know that it's "a small European thrush resembling a warbler with a brownish olive back..." or would you rather know it's a robin? Those pocket bilingual dictionaries are just fine!

The Four Secrets

I go on to expound my four secrets to learning any foreign language:

  • The best guarantee of success is the will to succeed.
  • Know the basic grammatical principles of your own language.
  • It's best to study for short periods on a regular basis. (Chip can help with this with his To-Dos.)
  • There are resourceful ways to acquire a good level in your own country.

I drill down into each of these secrets in detail in the guide.

A Test of Your Listening Skills

This is a neat 19-page guide which I could probably try to sell if I wanted to. I want to focus my efforts on EmpathyNow, however, so you can have the guide for free! The prerequisites are exactly the same as for the free break timer, so if you've claimed it already, you have the right to this language guide too. Simply:

  • Sign up for a free account and send yourself or someone else at least one empathy message, challenge or to-do.
  • Like the EmpathyNow Facebook page. (You're liking my effort and the place where my heart is at.) You are exempt from this if you don't have a Facebook account for philosophical reasons.
  • Once you've done the above, drop me a line (either using the EmpathyNow Contact page or else by replying to this email) indicating you've done the above and I'll send you a link to the handy, dandy language guide.

That's it. Several weeks of my effort in exchange for thirty seconds of your time. What are you waiting for?

Chip's Tips: I'm Calling You!

No tip this week - just the beaming of a proud father. Chip made his first voice call to me (and a couple of friends) a few days ago. I was grinning ear to ear.

Actually, I guess there is a tip that stems from this for life coaches and other mentors: functionality has been added to EmpathyNow which allows you to manage multiple users as well as upload audio recordings of your own voice and have Chip's notifications use your audio recordings to make voice phone calls instead of textual email messages. It's pretty exciting. You can read more about it by clicking here.


Thanks to Nancy Colasurdo for mentioning the EmpathyNow Life Coach features on her Facebook page, as well as Vashti and Leola for testing the voice phone call functionality.

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